“Test cricket is the main course and always will be. The other versions are like starters and desserts.” – Sachin Tendulkar
Test match cricket is a true anomaly in World sport. Where else can a sporting contest last 5 days and still result in no winner – something often stated to be the reason the sport has never gained popularity in the United States. It can also result in the most exciting and nerve wracking of contests, ebbing and flowing with tension before building to a crescendo over the course of five days.
One need only think of England’s famous victory over Australia at Headingly in 1981 during Botham’s Ashes or its two run win over Australia at Edgbaston in 2005, a result from which England went on to win their first Ashes series since 1986/87.
It was also evident in England’s thrilling 22 run win over Bangladesh in the first Test match in Chittagong.
Amongst the statistics to arise from England’s most recent victory was the fact that a record 26 decisions were referred to the decision review system (“DRS”) of which 11 of the on-field decisions made by the umpires were overturned. Another “unwanted record” was that of Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena whose 8 reversals from a total of 16 challenges was a new high.
The DRS was first introduced by the ICC in 2008 and remains available for use in all Test matches subject to the agreement of both sides. There are three components to the DRS:
- Hawk-Eye – a virtual ball tracking technology used to determine the trajectory of a bowling delivery interrupted by the batsman and whether it would have continued to hit the wicket or not;
- Hot Spot – infra-red imaging to see if the ball hits the bat or pads; and
- Real-time ‘Snickometer’ – where directional microphones are used to detect small sounds in order to determine if the ball hit the bat or pads.
The rules concerning the DRS were updated on 22 September 2016 and are set out in Appendix 1 to the ICC’s new ‘Standard Test Match Playing Conditions’.
Rule 3.5 of Appendix 1 states that each team will be allowed to make a total of two unsuccessful reviews for the first 80 overs of each innings and thereafter two further unsuccessful reviews until the completion of that innings. Further rule changes concerned the so-called “Umpires Call” for LBW decisions in which previously, for a decision to be overturned, more than 50% of the ball had to be hitting the stumps between the middle of off stump and the middle of leg stump. This zone has now been increased to between the outside of off stump and the outside of leg stump, an increase of some 3.8cm to the ‘red zone’; good news for bowlers.
Indeed these two new changes directly benefitted England in Chittagong as, having used up two unsuccessful reviews in the first 80 overs, these were refreshed and during the 82nd over Ben Stokes successfully challenged an initial not-out LBW decision by Dharmasena. The challenge was upheld and the original decision reversed, albeit it would have stood as an “Umpires Call” under the previous rules. Two balls later Bangladesh challenged but failed to overturn Dharmasena’s decision to give Shafiul Islam out as the umpire decided that he offered no-shot to a vicious in-swinger that struck him outside of off stump thus handing England victory.
Whilst the DRS system is generally thought to be a good thing given the ability for teams to challenge decisions, and give certainty to decisions, it has not been free from criticism from players such as former West Indies fast bowler Joel Garner who labelled it a “gimmick” and all round cricketing legend, and former umpire, Dickie Bird who believed it undermined the authority of the on-field umpires.
The most serious criticism however was that levied by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (“BCCI”), some would say the most influential body in World cricket, which consistently refused to agree to the use of the DRS during India’s Test matches.
This may be soon to change after the BCCI recently agreed to the use of the DRS, albeit on a trial basis, in its forthcoming series against England, having sought assurances as to its accuracy from leading experts in the United States.
Given the frequency of reviews in the latest Test match and the overall desire from all within the game for consistency, is it not time to make the DRS a compulsory part of any decision to give a batsmen out, leaving each team’s challenges only for decisions where a batsmen is given not out?
Whether or not you are fan of the DRS it is clearly here to stay. Let’s hope the same remains true of the 5 day game.